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Higher education in danger – presentation at Academic Freedom as a Human Right Workshop, 9-10 June 2018 Ankara


Academic Freedom as a Human Right

Workshop, 9-10 June 2018



Bill Bowring – notes for

Higher education in danger


Common factors.

Populism. Authoritarian and nationalist leaders. Trump, Putin, Erdogan. Netanyahu, Orban, May.

The consequences of intervention in Iraq, Libya, Syria – migrants risking their lives to reach a place of safety. Climate change means that there will be irresistible

Trade Wars. A war between capital in the US, EU, Russia, China.

Brexit for the UK – leaving the EU. May wants to denounce the European Convention on Human Rights, which she sees as protecting terrorists.

Brexit and May’s politics driven by xenophobia and fear/hatred of migrants, as well as the fanatical imposition of marketisation and commodification in education, health, the legal system. Young criminal defence barristers are now on strike.

Income inequality: OECD 2015 – Gini coefficient

Most unequal:

Mexico 0.459

Chile 0.454

Turkey 0.398

USA 0.39

Lithuania 0.381

Russia 0.376

UK 0.36


Privatisation of higher education.

Free university education started in 1962. This ended when student fees were introduced under Labour in 1998 at £1000 a year. In 2004 – raised to £3000. November 2010, proposals to increase to £9,000 a year. Mass student protests. 9 December 2010, the student Alfie Meadows. 13 charged, 50 injured. 8 March 2013 Meadows and others acquitted.

£9000 a year, that is a debt of £27000 for a three year law degree. This has created the opportunity for the entry of for-profit institutions. Within 1 km of University of London, BPP University and University of Las. Offering a law degree for the same price. Then the vocational year for qualification as a barrister or solicitor, for £20,000. So a debt of £47,000 when the prospects of entry to the professions are very small.

Of 250 students in the first year, maybe 25 have a real chance of becoming practising lawyers.

Where has the money gone? Not into academic salaries – real cuts of 20% in the last years. Increasingly casualised teaching. Sessional teachers in most subjects who have zero-hours contracts. My PhD student from Iran who is teaching two courses at my university and courses at others, and can barely live. No sick pay, no holiday pay, no job security.

Competition for students between Higher Education Institutions. Expensive building projects, especially Student Centres and other facilities.

“By decoupling the payment of fees from the subsidy of individual universities, and making them cover the full cost of provision, the field has been made attractive to for-profit organisations. The intention, pushed further in the 2015 Green Paper, is to encourage new ‘providers’ offering cheapness and flexibility. But in the eyes of critics it is part of a wider neoliberal programme of opening public services to globalised corporations, paving the way for general privatisation.”

Salaries of more than £300,000 a year for Rectors, 10 times more than academics.

Now a crisis with pensions, from a scheme which gave a fixed pension depending on final salary, to a scheme dependent on investments, maybe losing 20%.

So 14 days of strikes, leading to new negotiations. Loss of salary.

This is the operation of the market, the commodification of higher education, the possibility for private institutions to make huge profits.

UK’s counter-terrorism Prevent policy. Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 (CTSA) imposes a legal duty upon schools, universities, the NHS and other institutions to ‘have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism’. We have a campaign “Educators not Informants”.



The whole of civil society is under pressure and persecution in contemporary Russia. At the same time, the Federal government is putting substantial resources into raising the international ranking of Russian HEIs.

The European University at St Petersburg was founded in 1994. It is a private post-graduate and research HEI, which exists, basically on donations from Russian big business and on its own capital. It does not receive government money. To begin with it financed itself with grants from American and European NGOs, for example Soros Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, Ford Foundation. The activity of these organisations is now considered undesirable in Russia, and since 2007 EUSP has not received money from them.

According to the last published accounts (2015) EUSP has capital of 382.4 million roubles. Its board of trustees includes the banker Oleg Vyugin, ex-minister of finance, close to Mr Kudrin.

EUSP is considered to be one of the best non-governmental HEIs in Russia. It is the only Russian HEI in the LSE list of 100 best centres of political science. In January 2017 it was awarded top rating by the Russian Ministry of Education and Science, under the yearly evaluation introduced in 2012.

However, in early 2017 it lost both its licence to educate students, and the building it has occupied since 1994.

This is against the background of the assault on civil society which began in 2012, with the Law on Foreign Agents.

From 14 to 18 March 2016 EUSP underwent a check-up by Rosobrnadzor, the Russian state agency for control of education. From 1 April 2016 there was a “complete cessation” of state accreditation for EUSP’s programmes. The university’s leadership announced that this would not affect teaching.

On 6 May 2016 the accreditation of the university was withdrawn.

In June 2016 the Office of the Prosecutor on the request of the Deputy of the St Petersburg Legislature, now a Russian State Duma deputy, Vitaliy Milonov, started another investigation by Rosobrnadzor. 120 violations found. Mostly building faults etc.

22 August 2016 EUSP sent its report in response, about 1,800 pages of documentation.

On 23 August 2016 a further investigation was announced, and EUSP provided 8,500 pages, and 32 violations remained. Rosobrnadzor ordered that work cease on 30 September 2016.

On 20 September Rosobrnadzor forbade EUSP to take new students because of failure to comply with its orders. No new students have been taken since then.

Rosobrnadzor applied to Justice of the Peace courts 4 times. Problems include confirmation of qualifications of lecturers.

9 December 2016 Rosobrnadzor announced the cancellation of the Licence of EUSP. 7 December, forbidden to carry out any kind of educational activity from 7 December. From 14 December students were sent to other HEIs.

After an international protest, on 13 December cancellation of the Licence was reversed.

6 February 2017 EUSP received a letter from Rosobrnadzor withdrawing its objections to attestation of lecturers – and gave its positive evaluation of the qualifications of lecturer-practitioners (not defined)

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